Hello. My name is Jeremy Vaeni. I have a crappy cell phone camera. Today I used it to document my drop off a 40-foot cliff. Twice. Spoiler alert: I lived. Won’t you please join me?
Me and my friend drove to South Point on the Big island of Hawai’i. South Point is the southern-most point in the United States. No, I don’t mean like we all have silly accents and wear sheets when it isn’t even Halloween–I mean you could swim to the antarctic from there. (It might take a while.)
Although now that I think about it, we met some beautiful cows along the way–just like in the south! Here’s one now….
And her friends…
Oh look! A baby calf!
That’s right, mamma, I’m looking at you!
And–Hey, how’d that get in there?!
Anyway, before you know it we had arrived at the coast.
I walked to the edge of a cliff and took a picture of the glorious blue depths where I’d be jumping.
I know, I know. That looks dangerous and dumb. But if you’re gonna criticize me I’ll bring you right back to this!
That’s a photoshopped still frame from the movie, The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Hitler isn’t really yelling at my friend Tim to eat my hiney. Also, I’m not that thin. In real life, windswept and after pizza, I look like this….
Yes, that was me pretending not to be scared for my life before the big jump. I jumped fairly quickly because I realized that I was getting scared and I didn’t want to not do it. Here’s the amazing thing about 40-foot drops into the ocean at the end of the earth: about halfway down you realize, Holy crap! I’m still falling! Then you wonder if you had, in fact, made it to the bottom, died, and this was your eternity. Then you hope it is because if there’s an angel waiting with a life review leading to a different eternity, it’s going to consist of a lot of masturbation clips and you going, “I know… I know… I KNOW!–I effing lived it, alright? Christ, get off me!”
And then it’s right back to here with you….
I eventually did hit the water. It stung a little on my arms and feet but otherwise it wasn’t that bad. I thought I had pooped myself on impact but upon inspection, no; I just got sodomized by the ocean. Not as bad as the above, is it?
But you know what is pretty bad? Having to climb back up. First you hit the water. Then you are in shock. Then you realize this isn’t an amusement park ride and you’d better come out of shock because sharks smell fear and they’re sharpening their teeth right now. Then you realize you’re exhausted and have to get out of the ocean. Your friend jumps in. He’s exhilarated just like you, but unlike you he’s in decent physical shape. So for him, it’s a simple matter of grabbing onto some rocks and lifting himself out of the water with his hands, then finding footing with his feet and scaling the cliff.
You? Well, you’re me and so for you there’s a rickety bunch of green metal ladders held together by rusty hinges and blowing in the wind. You get to hope that holds you as you scale its tiny, painful rungs and wonder, What’s this one piece of twine threading these ladders for? That’s not holding it together, is it?
Then halfway up, same as on the way down, you realize, Holy crap! I’m still climbing! You’re out of breath and in pain and can’t do anything else but press forward. Meanwhile, your in-shape friend is already at the top like, “Can I give you a hand?” And you’re all, “A helicopter and a bagged lunch would be nice!”
But you make it. Eventually you make it. And then you hang out at the top of this….
And your friend says to you, “Are you gonna jump?”
And you think, ‘Are you crazy? I’m done for the day! I’m a hero in my own head! I’m not doing that!’ Yet your mouth says, “I wasn’t planning on it. Why, are you?”
He is. In a little while, he does. And then he swims underneath the rock bridge to pull himself up and out. He explains to you that the key is to time it so that the ocean water comes in, the level rises, but it’s calm, not crashing around. You don’t want to tumble about smashing into rock walls like a washing machine.
What about getting out, you want to know. How tough is that?
Well, you can either let the tide sweep you out to sea and swim around to that ladder. Or you can do what he did, which from the outside looking in seems like an easy climb, actually. And he furthers this notion by telling you that what you saw at the end–him struggling to climb out of the hole–was the hardest part. The easy part was getting out of the water because the tide lifts you to a ledge where you easily find your foothold and get to climbing.
Okay. Sounds good. Looks terrifying. That first jump looked terrifying, too. How bad can this be? Except, you know… rocks and stuff. Plus, most people don’t do this jump. It took your friend several days of coming here and contemplating it in fear. Hours of watching others do it and asking about timing and the such.
Not you. You’re stupid. You’re still me. You give it about a half hour. After a half hour of standing there scared with him barking, “Now’s good…. Good now…. Now…. Now’s good…. You should go now,” every time the water is risen and calm, you make the drop and aim for the center. You tell yourself you’re doing it to grab that plastic bag the wind swept into the hole–who pollutes in friggen Hawai’i?!–but really it’s because you have nothing to live for.
You jump. You plunge. You stay under longer than is necessary because it’s calm there and you don’t know what the surface is doing. It’s an instinctive move, plus it’s peaceful here underwater with the rush of bubbles and your heart. If there were an acoustic guitar playing you’d have the beginning to an indie film about becoming a man. Or a fish out of water. Or something pretentious. You don’t have that, you just have the moment.
Moment’s over. Now you must escape with your life. But first, that bag. You swim around for it. Your friend hollers down to you, “Behind you! To your left! Your other left! Your right!” You never question if it’s worth this for one plastic bag and soon you are rewarded with victory!
Bag in hand, now it’s time to escape. Up the easy wall you go! Except… Oh, your friend didn’t tell you this: when the tide pushes you onto the ledge, if you don’t make it far enough back and grab onto the rock by your talons for dear life, the tide drags you back out. Drags you, scrapes you across volcanic rock with the force of A TIDE.
That hurts. You do that a lot and it hurts and your friend is yelling, “Go the other way to the ladder!” because he has no faith in you–and shouldn’t–but more importantly can’t see you under there. He can just hear your squeals of pain and your swearing and then your stoic silence, which might mean you’re dead, not making a big life decision to do this, to see it through, like a man. Like, no, like an in shape man.
You let the sea rise and take you to the ledge once more. You roll to the back of it and cling like a cat to a screen while the water tries to murder you. You stand up. Finally, you stand and you toss the bag up onto the rocks. You’re jealous because that bag has made it out quicker than you. It had help, sure, but it’s also in better shape. You look everywhere for a toehold, a foothold, a handhold, a guy in a trench coat reaching down saying, “Come with me if you want to live!” Anything. You’ll take anything because you realize you cannot merely grab the edge of the next ledge and hoist your body up like doing pull-ups. That’s something your friend can easily do and just assumes anyone can. You’re not anyone. You’re everyone. You’ve eaten a lot today and in your life and now’s really not the time to work it all off. But watch you try.
When you find solace in nothing you realize you’ve been had. This isn’t easy. This is easy if you work out and have upper-body strength, not if climbing a ladder 40 feet takes it out of ya. So now you’re looking for something new: a home. You’re looking for a quiet little corner where you can rest. Live, if you have to. Maybe you never make it out of here. Maybe you become an animal in a zoo people drop food down to on a pole every now and then because the legend of you has travelled to their distant land and it’s good luck to feed The Beast of The Blue.
There is a place but it’s wet, which means eventually the tide will destroy it and you, like it’s about to do… now. You let the waves pummel you and gain a new resolve. You can do this. You must. Unless, maybe the tide will rise and eventually push you out through the top in 8 hours?–See, you keep trying to make other arrangements because climbing really isn’t a good option and neither is swimming out to that ladder by now.
Somehow… someway… somewhen… somewhere there is the tiniest crack of a crack that you can dig your big toe into and hoist that massive trunk onto the next ledge. No star points in this video game but you do get to live. So you find it. You hoist it. You destroy your knees. And you’re there.
By this time your friend has climbed down and thrown you a hand as if to say, “Come with me if you want to live!” What he actually says is, “Do you need a hand?” And then extends his hand and you take it but realize it’s no help because you’ll just pull him in. So you reject the hand–first time you’ve ever done that, eh, life review?
I digress…. You reject the hand and pull yourself up by your arms like a gymnast on a whatever that thing is. Now you’re up. Your arms are trembling. Your feet are dangling. You see nowhere to put them. Your friend gives you sage advice: “Don’t fall.” And you don’t. Like the weakest and oldest among us, you throw your right leg onto the ledge and struggle your way out on three limbs.
It’s ingenious if sloppy work, but work it does. Oh, work it does, friend. And so you make it out alive. Scraped up and dead tired, but alive. And if you’re me, you look like this….
Even your stomach is frowning through your shirt. But not for long, because your friend drives you to the store and buys you a drink, where you snap a photo of nature that, upon further inspection, looks like you’re placing an ad for a monster truck on Craig’s List….
Your friend looks at you and says, “I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. I would have felt awful for bringing you here.”
And you reply, “You would have felt awful. I’m glad you’re concerned with how you would have felt–meanwhile, I’m dead!”
And he laughs and laughs and you want to do it all over again. Later. After pizza and sleep. And pizza.